For a bharata natyam dancer to hold her leg high is as shocking to an Eastern classicist as a ballet dancer standing on her head would be to a Western traditionalist. That’s partly the result of the Indian form’s complicated history: though it’s derived from a 3,000-year-old treatise, the Natya Shastra, it’s been widely practiced only in the last few centuries–and onstage only since the 1930s–as an expression of national pride in response to colonial rule. So the form carries a lot of baggage, but at the same time its ancient sources–not just the written instructions of the Natya Shastra but the temple carvings called karanas–are open to a wide range of interpretation. Natya Dance Theatre artistic director Hema Rajagopalan would like to expand the universe of the art form she’s been practicing since she was a child in India, and thanks to a grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum she was able to travel there and to Indonesia earlier this year to study it further. She argues that the traditional bharata natyam style–which is precise, geometrical, grounded, and percussive–is the result of trying to translate what are basically poses into movements within the restricted space available to dancers in the temples. The fruit of her research is a work called Inside/Outside, based on a scriptural story about enlightenment and featuring a personification of humankind danced by her accomplished daughter, Krithika. Inside/Outside incorporates Rajagopalan’s new vocabulary, which has the lofted quality and fluidity of modern dance. Also on the program, called “Yatra: The Journey,” are pieces from the repertoire in the more traditional style: excerpts from Ahimsa: The Path Toward Nonviolence and from Shakti Chakra (The Energy Cycle). a 9/25-26: Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, auditorium, 400 S. State, 312-212-1240, $15-$20.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eileen Ryan Photography.